Hina Naveed

New York

Hina Naveed

1. How old were you when you came to the United States? Tell me a little about when you first realized that you were undocumented and what that meant for you.

My fam­i­ly came to the U.S. from Pak­istan on a tourist visa when I was ten years old to seek treat­ment for my sis­ter’s life-threat­en­ing brain con­di­tion. At this point, she had been through surgery in India and treat­ment in Dubai, but doc­tors felt she would receive the best care in the U.S. After we arrived, my father was able to get an employ­ment visa and we received approval to remain in the U.S. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when our visa was up for renew­al, our lawyer mis­filed our papers and we were ordered to leave the coun­try with­in 30 days. My father has always been very open with us about our undoc­u­ment­ed sta­tus. He explained that we had to choose whether to leave the U.S., inter­rupt­ing my sis­ter’s treat­ment and risk­ing her life, or stay behind and face the con­se­quences. We knew we had no choice but to stay and try to save her. Because of that deci­sion, my sis­ter is still alive today—13 years longer than her doc­tors expected.

The reper­cus­sions of being undoc­u­ment­ed did not actu­al­ly hit me until high school. When I was a junior, I was real­ly excit­ed about get­ting my dri­ver’s license like my class­mates. But I quick­ly real­ized that I could not get a license because I did not have a Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber. I knew why I didn’t have a Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber, why we were undoc­u­ment­ed, and why we chose to stay. Yet I still found myself dis­ap­point­ed and embar­rassed. When all of my friends asked why I was not dri­ving, I made up excus­es so that I wouldn’t have to tell them. In my senior year of high school, I felt much more than embar­rass­ment. Despite my aca­d­e­m­ic achieve­ments and efforts to build my rep­u­ta­tion at school—I was Salu­ta­to­ri­an of my class and Pres­i­dent of the Nation­al Hon­or Society—I was inel­i­gi­ble for col­lege schol­ar­ships and finan­cial aid because all of the forms required a Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber.  I was con­stant­ly wor­ried that my school or class­mates might learn that I was undoc­u­ment­ed and it would some­how jeop­ar­dize all that I had achieved.

2. What have been the biggest barriers for you in achieving your dreams because of your undocumented status? How has DACA changed that?

I have always been pas­sion­ate about learn­ing and pur­su­ing high­er edu­ca­tion. I want to become a doc­tor one day, but it has been dif­fi­cult to envi­sion that goal due to my undoc­u­ment­ed sta­tus. As a high school stu­dent, I was incred­i­bly anx­ious when I learned that, even if I attend­ed a pub­lic uni­ver­si­ty, I would not be eli­gi­ble for in-state tuition because I was undoc­u­ment­ed. I felt crushed when I real­ized that I had to pay $2,500 for each class with­out finan­cial assis­tance. As a result, I decid­ed to attend school part-time at the Col­lege of Stat­en Island. I was pre-med for my first two years there, but felt dis­heart­ened again when I learned that I need­ed a Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber to take the Med­ical Col­lege Admis­sion Test (MCAT). Even if I com­plet­ed the require­ments, I could not apply to med­ical school. As a result, I put my dream of being a doc­tor on hold in order to pur­sue a doc­tor­ate degree in nurs­ing while I await the res­o­lu­tion of my immi­gra­tion sta­tus. Being barred from access­ing finan­cial aid and hav­ing to pay out-of-state tuition has def­i­nite­ly been a bar­ri­er to pur­su­ing my dreams.

Obtain­ing DACA sta­tus has made me eli­gi­ble for in-state tuition rates; this has eased my finan­cial bur­den, but it has not made my dreams feel any more attain­able because I must renew my DACA sta­tus every two years. My cur­rent nurs­ing pro­gram requires an eight-year com­mit­ment, and in order for me to suc­ceed my DACA sta­tus needs to be renewed. It is very chal­leng­ing to feel like my whole life and future career hang in the bal­ance while I await a deci­sion on my renew­al. In the mean­time, I won­der whether I will ever be able to go to med­ical school. Even though I now have a Social Secu­ri­ty num­ber, if I take the MCAT and am accept­ed into a med­ical pro­gram, how will I pay for it? Lack­ing immi­gra­tion sta­tus has sig­nif­i­cant­ly lim­it­ed my options for a more afford­able med­ical school option. If I was a U.S. cit­i­zen or had a green card, I could attend med­ical school in oth­er coun­tries in the Caribbean, which is far more afford­able. I don’t have that option because I can­not trav­el with my cur­rent status.

3. What is your happiest or most vivid childhood memory?

My hap­pi­est mem­o­ry is the birth of my lit­tle sis­ter. It was like a mir­a­cle for our fam­i­ly. My mom was old­er when she dis­cov­ered that she was preg­nant, and she had a very dif­fi­cult preg­nan­cy. I was so scared for her, but so excit­ed about hav­ing a new addi­tion to our fam­i­ly. I loved hav­ing the abil­i­ty to care for my sis­ter from birth. In some ways, I feel like a mini-par­ent because I have raised her and watched her grow. She brings so much joy into my life.

4. Where do you see yourself in ten years? How would that change if you had status or citizenship?

In ten years, I hope to be a med­ical school grad­u­ate or a suc­cess­ful nurse prac­ti­tion­er. I would love to be involved with an orga­ni­za­tion like Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders or Nurs­es With­out Bor­ders so I can help peo­ple in areas where med­ical assis­tance is scarce. It would be incred­i­ble to open a clin­ic in an under­served area in Pak­istan. If I had cit­i­zen­ship, I would not have to wor­ry about my sta­tus and could trav­el out­side of the U.S. freely. I could attend med­ical school and to serve com­mu­ni­ties in need in oth­er coun­tries. It would be amaz­ing to ful­fill my dreams with­out limitations.

5. What is one thing that no one knows about you or your most marked characteristic?

My most marked char­ac­ter­is­tic is that I am very talk­a­tive, pas­sion­ate and deter­mined. I can also be incred­i­bly stub­born which keeps me focused on my goals and beliefs.

6. If you could ask one question of President Obama, what would it be?

Why are you try­ing to deport the same peo­ple for whom you are work­ing to pass immi­gra­tion reform? You say you want to pro­vide a path to cit­i­zen­ship for the 11 mil­lion undoc­u­ment­ed peo­ple in this coun­try, but you are deport­ing these same indi­vid­u­als in record numbers.

7. What is your favorite quote?

“In a lit­er­al way, men rule the world. And this made sense a thou­sand years ago. Because human beings lived then in a world in which phys­i­cal strength was the most impor­tant attribute for sur­vival. The phys­i­cal­ly stronger per­son was more like­ly to lead. And men in gen­er­al are phys­i­cal­ly stronger; of course, there are many excep­tions. But today we live in a vast­ly dif­fer­ent world. The per­son more like­ly to lead is not the phys­i­cal­ly stronger per­son, it is the more cre­ative per­son, the more intel­li­gent per­son, the more inno­v­a­tive per­son, and there are no hor­mones for those attrib­ut­es. A man is as like­ly as a woman to be intel­li­gent, to be cre­ative, to be inno­v­a­tive. We have evolved, but it seems to me that our ideas of gen­der have not evolved.”
– Chi­ma­man­da Ngozi Adichie

8. Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself or your experience in the United States?

As I have learned of the strug­gles of oth­ers in the U.S., I feel that my life has not been so dif­fi­cult. Yet expe­ri­enc­ing the hard­ships that I have endured has allowed me to grow and mature very quickly.

While I was a part-time stu­dent at the Col­lege of Stat­en Island, I was award­ed the New York Immi­gra­tion Coali­tion’s DREAM Fel­low­ship, and began to work with El Cen­tro De Inmi­grante, a local immi­grant rights orga­ni­za­tion. When meet­ing the immi­grants that I served there, I was struck by their uncon­di­tion­al accep­tance of my appear­ance. They nev­er cared that I am Mus­lim, wear a head scarf, or can’t speak Span­ish. They just saw me as human, as some­one they could trust. Feel­ing so eas­i­ly accept­ed made me reflect on our own South Asian cul­ture and how we often judge oth­ers. I have real­ized through my work that the divi­sive­ness with­in our cul­tures and com­mu­ni­ties and the stereo­types we have against one anoth­er only oper­ate against us in the long run. We need to learn to trust each oth­er, work togeth­er, and sup­port one anoth­er because the issues for which we are fight­ing affect us all. We all deserve to live with dig­ni­ty and respect, regard­less of our immi­gra­tion status.

I was inspired and moved by my expe­ri­ences work­ing with undoc­u­ment­ed indi­vid­u­als. I have learned to put things in per­spec­tive, to appre­ci­ate and val­ue life, and to remain strong. It is easy to keep to one­self and endure chal­lenges alone, but shar­ing my life sto­ry has been invalu­able for my per­son­al growth. In some ways, our great­est val­ue as human beings is in con­nect­ing with one anoth­er, in being involved in each oth­ers’ lives and life stories.